During the second full mission of the Rainbow Six extraction, my operator Rook was lost by a tough, strong alien. Another teammate quickly followed and we were forced to watch our last teammate play a painful cat-and-mouse game with the rude guy before finally giving in. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to successfully rescue our captured hero.
I had the chance to attend a four-hour demo of Ubisoft’s upcoming Rainbow Six Siege co-op spin-off ahead of its release later this month. I was surprised and impressed from the end of playtime, but I’m not sure how much of a buzz it’s going to make in a genre that’s already seen a bit of a revival.
The extraction is set in an alternate timeline in the Rainbow Six Siege poem, where the world is infested by alien monsters known as the Arachians. Call these gooey tar beasts whatever you want, I keep calling them “dumbs” in my head, but these are classic melee-focused zombie cannon fodder with elite variants that you can download from games like Left 4 Dead, Back 4, and more blood, or the plague. Unlike those four-person affairs, the Extraction Squad is a trio of existing operators from Siege.
The experience begins with a tutorial level set on the infected Liberty Island. I came in as Doc and the healing abilities he always needed made him a solid beginner operator. Similar to Siege, each operator has a customizable loadout and a selection of weapons. I picked the Doc’s default shotgun and chose a suppressor pistol instead of the classic cool revolver. It’s a good thing I kept that quiet option, since extracting requires a surprising level of stealth play.With a slow default movement speed and a small number of enemies that could overwhelm our squad, Extraction has more in common with a cooperative survival horror shooter GTFO Than the escaped survivors in Left 4 Dead.
Enemies won’t immediately notify you of your location, and many of the game’s objectives even require you to go undetected in order to continue. Instead of running around with shotguns and assault rifles, I found myself methodically clearing rooms and headshot Arachaeans with suppressed pistols. Loud noise can overwhelm your squad or spend valuable resources prematurely in a mission.
Extraction’s operators start each mission with a limited pool of health, battering even the most unwieldy goomba-style Aracheans. The Ubisoft rep assured me that I was pretty good at the game and got the hang of it quickly, but my death halfway through the tutorial meant something else. The end of that game, and most of my squad’s obliterations and near obliterations in later missions, came from reminding our enemies and initiating fierce battles when we weren’t ready. Extraction’s basic rhythm is like you’re extending Left 4 Dead’s witch encounters into a full game — the entire discreetly explored arena is interrupted at times by loud, violent sounds. It’s not what I expected, but I found this game loop very refreshing.
The mission is divided into three sub-areas, each with its own objective interrupted by an L4D-style safe room called an airlock. Typical objectives include eliminating enemies or enemy spawn points from stealth, rescuing hostages, taking down elite enemies, or defending a position within a set time. In addition to the airlock leading to the next part of the mission, each area has an extraction point where you can place downed teammates for rescue or even leave the mission early, reducing your losses and giving up the potential for the rest of the next objective award. My squad picks this option when we feel like we’ve taken too much damage or suffered a premature KO while on a mission.
You’ll want to stay with your operators because damage is very persistent, both on and off the mission. Items and abilities that restore health only add temporary health, which slowly fades over time. Once your main health bar takes some damage, it won’t disappear until the action is complete.
Even so, your operators must stop performing tasks to fully recover, with the number of operations increasing based on the level of damage they have suffered. I like both restrictions. I am reminded of tactical games like XCOM or Darkest Dungeon, where you manage a group of heroes who face ongoing consequences for any threat to their fragile constitutions. I also think it helps balance Extraction’s large selection of carriers and forces you not to play for too long. No matter how good a character is, you can’t rely on them for every mission.
If an operator is completely shot down while on a mission and is not placed in an evacuation zone, they will have to be “rescued” before they can be used again. The next time you operate in the same city, you will automatically receive MIA Rescue targets in one of the mission areas. MIA Rescue requires you to pull the operator out of the ancient cocoon and bring it to the extraction point. I like the extra consequences of failing a mission, but I can’t go through some quick time events when you pull one of yours out – think arm wrestling minigame in The Witcher 2 with a less user-friendly interface, You are basically there.
Rainbow Six Siege’s iconic environmental devastation is featured in the extraction, but it’s not as emphasized here. Aside from one of my teammates getting creative with Sledge’s titular hammer, smashing through walls to overcome bottlenecks and pressure from hordes of enemies, I didn’t notice many opportunities to use Siege’s breakable wall technology to our advantage. However, I can see that virtuosity in environmental destruction comes from experience and is the dividing line between good players and good players.
My biggest surprise in the demo was the only boss fight my squad encountered, a zombie version of Sledge with the classic video game boss “big buy” move set: slow telegram attacks and punishing gap closers. After we cleared two-thirds of his health, Evil Sledge messed things up by raising an indestructible shield to negate all damage from the front. Then we had to coordinate so that one player was distracted while the other two dealt damage from behind. Protean is easily the highlight of the demo, offering challenging, mechanically complex boss fights. The developers I spoke with said there will be 3-4 potential Proteans based on different carriers at launch, and they intend to release more over time.
The last mode we tackled was “Maelstrom Protocol” – what the developers described as an “endgame campaign” for Rainbow Six’s extraction. Maelstrom is a bit like a roguelite mode: challenge nine consecutive objectives each week with increasing difficulty with modifiers. My squad barely made it out of our third sector, which had low visibility haze that we didn’t encounter during normal missions. We immediately buffed some of the elite enemies in the next area, and scrawled out another day’s battle.
Rainbow Six Extraction has a lot to offer, and its gameplay loop certainly sets it apart from the most popular co-op shooters around, but there are plenty of high-quality co-op zombie (and zombie-adjacent) shooters to choose from like Back 4 Blood , GTFO or the upcoming Warhammer 40k: Darktide. We’ll be launching Rainbow Six on January 20th to see if it can carve out a niche in this increasingly vibrant subgenre.